Charity opens new world of play for kids in Lanarkshire with sight loss

An exciting new world of play has opened up for Cambuslang toddler Jack Pringle and other young children like him who have a visual impairment.

Born with a brain malformation, 18-month-old Jack has taken part in one of the first ‘My Time to Play’ block of sessions arranged in Lanarkshire by the charity, Guide Dogs.

‘My Time to Play’ helps children with a vision impairment from birth to the age of four learn important developmental skills in a fun and supportive group setting.

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The program is designed to help children develop a broad range of skills and encourage them to use their non-visual senses.

Each session is based around a sensory story and includes songs, movement and related activities.

Roughly 80 per cent of learning is visual, which means children with sight loss need to learn about and explore the world in a slightly different way.

The Guide Dogs team takes a sensory approach to story-telling for kids with sight loss

The ‘My Time to Play’ service is designed to help children like Jack do exactly this, while achieving key development goals, including: concept development; sensory skills; fine and gross motor skills; and self-help for young children as they take their first steps towards independence.

The sessions are led by Guide Dogs habilitation specialists, who are experts on children with sight loss.

Jack gets into the swing of things

This free service also benefits parents, enabling them to meet other mums and dads in a similar situation so experiences, skills and knowledge can be shared.

Siblings are welcome to attend to join in the fun.

Jack’s mum, Karen, was among parents who chose to participate initially in a virtual group, and hopes to join the in-person sessions planned for Lanarkshire families, launching in Hamilton next month.

The sessions give mum Karen precious time to play with Jack

Gillian Murdoch, senior habilitation specialist, told Lanarkshire Live: “Discovering a child has a vision impairment can be a worrying and confusing time for families.

“Every year, we help hundreds of families build their skills, knowledge, and confidence, and provide tailored support that is right for each family’s specific needs.

“Small adaptations and innovations can really support families to help their children to live the life they choose.”

David and Karen, with younger son Jack

Karen, 27, admits that, until she and Jack became involved in ‘My Time to Play’, she believed that the charity existed solely to train and provide guide dogs for people with a visual impairment.

She has since learned that Guide Dogs Scotland offers a range of services for children with sight loss of all ages, including buddy dogs, custom-made books, family events and more.

Busy working mum Karen, whose elder son, David, is nearly three years of age, says the hour-long sessions gave her invaluable one-to-one time with Jack without the usual distractions.

Jack and big brother David

While the time they spent together previously was at physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions or hospital visits, the hour-long play sessions allow her to enjoy quality time with her little boy and the other children who have taken part in the virtual sessions with their parents.

As he gets older, Karen hopes that Jack – who underwent surgery to his brain at the age of only 14 weeks – will receive help from habilitation specialists with communication and language skills.

“Without realizing it, the sessions give him a chance to use his senses and improve his body movement by making him aware of his arms and legs,” explained Karen, who says the songs during the play sessions assist with movement and coordination.

The sessions encourage kids with sight loss to call on their other senses during play

The sessions also help parents to identify everyday objects within the home that can be used as play props, such as turning tin foil into stars.

“It helps the parent and the child,” explained Karen, who says Jack is reaching developmental milestones in his own time and, it is hoped, he will be walking by the age of three or four.

“It is just something totally different. You would sit and sing to your child at other times. But I like the fact that this is your hour that is dedicated to sitting and playing and trying to bring your child on.

“It is just nice, quality time, just with you and your child, when you can play together. I’d highly recommend it.”

With Lanarkshire sessions due to start in the coming months, get in touch to apply for a place by calling Guide Dogs Scotland on 0800 781 1444.

Find more information online, where parents can also access free resources such as a sensory songbook and sensory games.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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